Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 14, 2019)
I have met the lawyer in today’s Gospel many times; sadly, sometimes it’s been when I looked in the mirror
To test Jesus, he asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as he does so often, answers with a question: “What is written in the law? “
The lawyer answers with the same answer that Jesus used when he was asked what the greatest commandment is: love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Then, Jesus tells him precisely what to do; “Do this [love] and you will live. The lawyer had asked a “do to get something” question; Jesus corrected with a “do to live” answer.
The lawyer, in legal fashion, then asked that “neighbor” be defined: “Who is my neighbor?” Perhaps he did not want to make the mistake of offering his charity unnecessarily. The question indicates that the lawyer is more interested in the law than love of his neighbor.
Jesus answered with the trick of threes – as, “there was a rabbi, a minister, and a priest” – or “there was a Polish man, an Italian, and an Irishman.” The third mentioned is either the punch line of a joke or the successful solution to an issue. Jesus’ story in which a Samaritan was the hero, the one who possessed the compassion of God over a law-abiding priest and a Levite would have been a severe shock to any Jew at that time.
Jesus was saying that this lawyer and his fellow Jews could not hide behind their laws or culture. True, laws give structure to our lives; few would prefer to live without them. Jesus broke laws to help people, demonstrating beyond doubt that compassion trumps law.
Neither the Jews, then, nor ourselves, now, can decide who is our neighbor. In the kingdom of God, boundaries defining neighbors do not exist. Compassion trumps law.
There is a second, subtler, more personal lesson to be learned – one that surely impacts me. It is provoked by the closing words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise.”
If there is any verse in all of revelation that stands out for me, it is Jesus’ answer to the question: “What is the greatest commandment?” It has been drummed into us all for years. But . . . Why is the follow-through not in the forefront of my consciousness? I feel a need to “go and do likewise” in a more pro-active way.
Theology may help here. Theology talks about cognitive knowing and evaluative knowing. Some folks intellectually know that murder is wrong but fail to appreciate its wrongness.
Perhaps I/we intellectually know that love of god and neighbor should be paramount in our lived lives but fail to appreciate that spiritual truth 24/7 and thereby fail to apply the knowledge in the here and now situation. Like the gospel lawyer who knew the greatest commandment, I / we also begin to ponder it and do not, as Nike says, “Just do it.” If we do not work on our faith convictions, our faith-convictions will not work for us in crunch times. The disconnect indicates a degree of lack of integrity.
The Good Samaritan was “good,” because he saw a need. His gut was struck. He reacted - positively. The story does not speak of any debate in his mind, weighing pros and cons. He was somehow “compassion-ready” for this moment. My goal is to increase spontaneity in compassion situations so as to model better the compassion Jesus spoke about.
To our credit, you and I have promptly reacted in critical situations in the past. I present for your thoughtful consideration my concern for my own “compassion knee-jerk.” Perhaps, you can identify with this. We, perhaps, need to be conscious of a possible disconnect -- or slow-connect -- between knowing about compassion and showing compassion, -- consistently identifying with the compassion of god in the here and now living our Christian vocation.
I have a need to “live Jesus” in a state of greater readiness to react compassionately at a gut level. I hope that my reflection will be of some help to you. I have a greater hope that you don’t need any help.